Eagles' Villanueva 'feels like a football player again'

apalejandrovillanueva.jpg

Eagles' Villanueva 'feels like a football player again'

It’s been a while since Alejandro Villanueva could call himself a football player.

For Villanueva, a former U.S. Army captain who spent the past four years in the military (see story), the Eagles’ OTAs over the past three weeks have been the first time he's participated in football activities since a tryout with the Cincinnati Bengals following his senior season at Army in 2009.

“I feel like a football player again,” Villanueva said following the Eagles' OTA on Tuesday. “I feel like I’m doing all the requirements that all the other players are doing, so I feel like I’m part of the team.”

However, his time with the Eagles so far hasn’t had much in common with his football experience at Army.

At 6-foot-9 and 277 pounds, Villanueva’s size and speed were so uncommon for Army that his coaches were never quite sure how to best maximize his abilities. He played three positions in four years, starting off as a defensive lineman, developing into a starting left offensive tackle as a junior before converting to wide receiver as a senior and leading the team with 34 receptions, 522 yards and five touchdowns.

The Eagles have determined that his size will be best spent as a defensive end, a decision that is perfectly fine with Villanueva. After the constant shuffling in college, he is looking forward to finally being able to develop at one position.

“[Playing defense] is a lot different but the coaching has been great, so I’ve been able to learn from all of them,” Villanueva said. “If they think I have a better chance of playing defensive [line], I’ll play there.”

Having not played defense since the beginning of his sophomore year of college, Villanueva has relied heavily on his new teammates to learn defensive coordinator Billy Davis’ scheme, particularly two-time Pro Bowler Trent Cole and second-year defensive end Brandon Bair.

Although his height would seem to give him potential as a pass rusher, Villanueva has concentrated mostly on learning the run-stuffing techniques that come with playing defensive end in the 3-4.

“[Defensive line] coach [Jerry] Azzinaro has been adamant about the key points I can focus on,” Villanueva said. “In our scheme, striking and using my legs are those things. As we progress, hopefully I can put those things into play and improve from where I started.”

In reality, Villanueva’s focus is not on what position he plays as much as it is simply making the team.

A team captain his senior year at West Point, Villanueva's biggest adjustment has been adapting his mindset to fighting for a roster spot after being a key player in college.

Earning a spot on special teams will likely be his best chance to make the final roster; he spent much of Tuesday’s session practicing with the kick return unit.

“Playing football at Army is pretty special and obviously I have a lot more experience there,” Villanueva said. “[Playing for the Eagles] is a different situation. At Army I played four years and was always able to contribute and now I’m just trying to make the team.

“Making the team [is my goal], so if they put me on all the special teams that would be the best news.”

In his few weeks as an Eagle, Villanueva has already received numerous questions from his teammates about his time in the Army. He served three tours in Afghanistan during his four years of service.

Although he is eager to move on with this new chapter in his life as a professional athlete, Villanueva has no problem with teammates asking him about his past. If anything, the camaraderie in the locker room has been his favorite part of playing football again.

“Sometimes they ask about it (being in the army) when they have a question that’s been burning them,” Villanueva said. “Usually they have a question about how things are run. It’s a learning experience for a lot of them. My teammates have been awesome, so it’s been pretty fun overall.”

Howie Roseman on Jason Kelce, Mychal Kendricks: 'They're going to be here going forward'

Howie Roseman on Jason Kelce, Mychal Kendricks: 'They're going to be here going forward'

The 2017 NFL draft has come and gone.

And Jason Kelce and Mychal Kendricks are both still Eagles.

The two players, who have been with the team since 2011 and 2012, respectively, have reportedly been on the trade block throughout this offseason. It seemed possible one or both could be moved during the draft, but it didn't happen.

"Yes, they are here and we fully anticipate they're going to be here going forward," Eagles VP of football operations Howie Roseman said Saturday after the draft wrapped up.

Kelce is coming off a Pro Bowl year, but at times last season didn't perform well and the Eagles have Isaac Seumalo waiting to take over. Kendricks was technically a starter last season but played minimally, coming off the field in non-base packages, something he likely wasn't thrilled about.

With the Eagles still in a tight salary cap situation, trading Kelce would save $3.8 million in cap space. Cutting Kendricks would save $1.8 million.

Did teams inquire about the two veterans over the last three days?

"We don't ever talk about trade discussions with any teams, but both those guys have been here in the offseason and they're going to be here going forward," Roseman said.

Eagles 2017 undrafted free-agent tracker

Eagles 2017 undrafted free-agent tracker

The 2017 NFL draft is over and the Eagles added eight players.

Now, they're adding more via undrafted free agents.

"There's a lot of leg work that's done prior," Eagles vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas said. "It's an all-hands-on-deck mentality. Scouts are working with coaches. We have our list of guys, we're recruiting these guys. We're calling agents, recruiting agents as well.

"Much like the draft, once the draft is over, we have our list of guys. We go by the ranking. We load the roster up. I think it went as smoothly as possible."

The Eagles addressed defensive needs and added a few offensive weapons for quarterback Carson Wentz. They drafted a defensive end — Derek Barnett — in the first round Thursday.

On Friday, they added two cornerbacks and on Saturday, they drafted two wide receivers, a running back, a safety-turned-linebacker and a defensive tackle.

Here is a tracker of the undrafted free agents the Eagles signed after the draft.

Greg Ward Jr., WR, 5-11/185, Houston
Ward signed with the Eagles after the draft, according to FOX 26's Mark Berman. He was a quarterback in college but switched to wide receiver during the draft process. At Houston's pro day, Ward ran a 4.40 in the 40-yard dash. He threw for 8,705 yards and 53 touchdowns in four years at Houston but was also a dual threat. He ran for 1,108 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2015, and last season, he added 518 yards and 10 scores on the ground. In 2013 and 2014, he combined for 25 catches for 234 yards and two receiving TDs.

Cam Johnston, P, 5-11/190, Ohio State
Johnston tweeted after the draft he signed with the Eagles. Johnston was the Eddleman-Fields Big Ten Punter of the Year in 2016, an All-Big Ten first team and a Ray Guy award finalist. Johnston set Ohio State single-season and all-time records for punts inside the 20 — 31 punts inside the 20 in 2015 and 109 career punts inside the 20. He also set a school record with a 57.0-yard average in 2014 against Illinois.

Tyler Orlosky, C, 6-3/298, West Virginia
Orlosky is the third Mountaineer to join the Eagles this draft. The center signed with the team after the draft, according to the Daily Athenaeum's Chris Jackson. The Eagles drafted cornerback Rasul Douglas on Friday and wide receiver Shelton Gibson on Saturday. Counting running back Wendell Smallwood last season, that's now four West Virginia players added in some capacity in the last two drafts.

Corey Clements, RB, 5-11/209, Wisconsin
Clements joins the Eagles as an UDFA, according to FOX 29's Howard Eskin. Clements ran for 1,375 yards with a 4.4 yards per carry average, 15 touchdowns on 314 attempts.